Kids are taught that sports are all about fair play, doing your best and upholding the integrity of the game. However, most professional athletes know that’s a load of crap. Winning by any means necessary is a constant in pro sports and a lot of athletes love to take that to extremes. It was truly common in the older days where rules were less strict and hard play was expected if not encouraged. Fans wanted a good time with a game so a lot of guys were more than willing to give that. It’s lessened a bit in recent years with the rise of legal issues and worries about the aftereffects of injuries but we still have guys willing to break the rules to get ahead.
Some guys take it a bit too far however. They take the idea of “any means necessary” too literally and cause a lot of damage. Many are cases of guys from back in the older days where such harder play was common but we still have some in modern times as well. These are guys who get by with any methods they can, biting, clawing, punching and more. It’s not so much cheating as just getting ahead and not caring much who they hurt along the way. It’s no surprise many of these are from the worlds of football and hockey, which regularly involve a lot of physical contact but other sports have their share of hard hitters too and sneaky cheats as well. Here are 20 athletes who took play to the extreme and didn’t mind much how many bruises they dished out to get ahead.
20 Gaylord Perry
He was a great pitcher, a five time All-Star and two-time Cy Young winner with a no-hitter to his credit. But Perry is infamous as one of the most blatant spitball throwers in baseball history. He made no secret of it, regularly loading up a ball for harsh pitches but could never get caught. The sneaky part was that Perry would use that reputation, psyching batters out by rubbing at his cap or such to make it look like he was loading up and then throw a regular ball that the batter would miss as they were expecting a loaded pitch. Reggie Jackson was so upset after striking out following such a move that he was thrown out of the game. Perry was more blatant putting so much rosin on a ball that you would literally see a cloud of smoke in the air when he threw it. That was banned thanks to Perry himself as the man used dirty pool psychologically which can be even dirtier than fighting.
19 Marty McSorley
This is a major case of a guy whose behavior manages to get him into serious legal trouble. Already known for his hard-slashing and sticking, McSorley hit the Canucks’ Donald Brashear with his stick in 2000, knocking him down with a concussion. It ended up with McSorley suspended for a year and convicted of assault by a Canadian court, basically ending his otherwise strong career. McSorley was mostly known for his constant protection of Wayne Gretzky during the Oilers dynasty, basically encouraged by the coaches to do whatever it took to keep Gretzky safe and scoring and would live up to that order by any means necessary. McSorley followed Gretzky to Los Angeles to continue his hard play but a sticking penalty by McSorley basically cost the Kings the 1993 Stanley Cup. He retired with a total of 3,381 penalty minutes.
18 Karl Malone
It’s hard to find a major NBA player in the ‘90s who didn’t know exactly what “The Mailman’s” elbow looked and felt like. Malone would slam them any chance he got and rebounds against him were a case of taking your own health in your hands. That’s not to mention his tendency to get guys to foul him and constant hack and slash attacks to push his team ahead. He gave Isiah Thomas a blow so savage that Thomas needed 40 stitches to close it and you can’t count how many black eyes he delivered in his tenure. And when he was called for a foul, he would act as if it was totally ridiculous and whine about it. Very few of his victims will sympathize with his lack of championships.
17 Dave Schultz
No team in NHL history was as wild and nasty as the 1970-75 Philadelphia Flyers. And no Flyer was as nasty as “the Hammer.” The unofficial leader of the “Broad Street Bullies,” Schultz was certainly talented, a key reason the Flyers won back to back Stanley Cups. But he was also the more ruthless and feared enforcer on the ice, still holding the record for the most penalty points in a single season. He would usually go without a helmet in play, making his hits all the more spectacular and went out of his way to smash a guy, even if the play didn’t require it.
Schultz would wrap his fists with boxing tape which gave his shots (both legal and otherwise) more power and the NHL had to create a rule named after him to ban it. While his style of play was common back in the ‘70s, Schultz took it to a new degree of brutality that made him the guy you never wanted to face even with a stick.
16 Jack Tatum
Tatum didn’t just not mind being nicknamed “the Assassin,” he relished it, even using it in the title of his autobiographies. Even by the standards of the 1970s Raiders, Tatum was a brutal and harsh figure, his hits brutal and rough as he would go out of his way to target guys for serious slams. He was a great player in his own right, a three time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion which took some edge off his wild style but not by much.
He was involved in one of the most infamous moments in NFL history as a bad tackle in a pre-season game left Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley paralyzed. Tatum never apologized but reportedly was haunted by the incident to his dying day, the rare case of one of these guys realizing that going dirty could get way out of hand.
15 Dennis Rodman
Rodman is well known for his eccentric behavior and such but also for his very rough and wild play. Amazingly, the man was introverted in his youth but he sure made up for that in his playing days as his time in the Pistons boosted his aggressive style and he remade himself into an enforcer with plenty of hard hits and fouls that angered opponents and kept them off-balance. He would head-butt several guys and refuse to leave the court after being ejected and even striking referees and cameramen. The thing was that Rodman had the talent to back his actions up, one of the best rebound champs in NBA history and has five championship rings to prove his worth as he was a key for the Bulls’ second three-peat. But all that talent is overshadowed by Rodman’s rep as a crazy and often violent player who was one of the more colorful to ever hit a basketball court.
14 Ndamukong Suh
On Thanksgiving Day 2011, the entire nation got to see Suh’s style on full display when he blatantly stomped on Packers lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith , three times on his chest and once on his arm and was immediately tossed out. A year later, he followed it up by kicking Texans quarterback Matt Schaub in the groin. Both times, Suh claimed they were just accidents but no one bought it due to the man’s already high reputation for dirty play.
Often, his actions backfire as more than once, a big Lions play was nullified by a penalty on Suh and his last move with the Lions was stomping on Aaron Rodger’s leg in the final game of the 2014 season. Suh is now with the Dolphins and it seems quite likely his career fine total will soon exceed the $300,000 mark to solidify him as one of the league's dirtiest players.
13 Billy Martin
In his playing days, Martin was regarded in two ways: a top-notch player and one of the roughest guys in baseball. He would get into brawls constantly off the field but saved some of his best for on it. He threw a bat at pitcher Jim Brewer and followed it up with a sucker punch that cracked Miller’s eye and launched a harsh lawsuit. You would always see Martin in the middle of a bench-clearing brawl and was suspended for all of 1970 for his part in a bar fight. He famously slipped a middle finger into his 1972 Tigers baseball card that wasn’t noticed until its release.
When managing the Tigers, he openly bragged to the press about telling his pitchers to load up spitballs and bean opponents and was fired. His tenure managing the Yankees is legendary for screaming at umpires, a televised fight with Reggie Jackson and pulling off various tricks on opponents to get ahead. It all added up to the legend that has become Martin, a figure of controversy and in many ways a genius at baseball but even more for stooping as low as you could to call yourself a winner.
12 Ron Artest
When you start the biggest brawl in NBA history that results in lawsuits from fans, that automatically puts you up for this list. But even without that, the man known today as Metta World Peace would more than earn a spot. He destroyed a television camera in the middle of a game and would argue about being given time off to promote his rap albums. He cost the Kings a key playoff series by being suspended for an elbow hit and a 12-game suspension cost him the Defensive Player of the Year award. Artest’s ejections were numerous as he seemed to go out of his way to instigate more fights, hit more cheap shots and hurt his own team by getting tossed. He cold-cocked James Harden in 2012 and claimed it an accident. Despite all his great skills as a player, Artest will be judged as one of the roughest guys in NBA history and more for the lack of his sportsmanship than his real talent.
11 Gilbert Yvel
A key reason it was hard for the general public to take MMA seriously in the early days was because of guys like Yvel. The Netherlands native was skilled and imposing but far better known for his tactics that crossed the line way too often. He was disqualified for biting Karimula Barkalaev and poking the eyes of Don Frye. In November of 2004, he shocked everyone by knocking out the referee after he held Yvel back and kicking the guy on the mat.
He was banned from a PRIDE show because the Nevada State Athletic Commission wouldn’t allow him to compete and while he would tone it down a bit, was still known for some wild attacks that went too far to smash guys down and hurt his own standing as much as opponents while helping make MMA look little more than a thug sport.
10 Tiger Williams
He holds the record for the most career penalty minutes in NHL history at 4,421. That’s more than the entire NHL today put together amasses in a whole season. He was a great scorer but Williams was better known for his hard play, great hits, more than able to get under opponents’ skin and one of the better enforcers on the ice. His style of play was hard and it often backfired as evidenced by his time in the “Bin of Sin” where he spent most of his playing days. He retired in 1988 with a record likely never to be broken and a fighting style most “rough guys” in today’s NHL can only dream of matching.
9 Duncan Ferguson
It’s one thing to lay out a hit that gets you fined or suspended. It’s another altogether to land in jail because of it. Such was the case when the striker savagely head-butted John McStay in 1994 and was put in jail for three months. It was the highlight of a career known for harsh play, eight red cards and was nicknamed “Duncan Disorderly” by both fans and teammates. He proved that offensive players could be just as hard and nasty on the field as any defensive guy and while his career was limited by injuries, he proved himself with the famous story of two burglars making the mistake of breaking into his house and Ferguson took them down on his own, putting one in the hospital. No wonder he was so feared, a man who knew both sides of the justice system was a damn intimidating player to be against.
8 Bill Romanowski
He has four Super Bowl rings but Romanowski is better known for a style of play that made him one of the wilder guys in football. This is a guy so intense that he would spit in the faces of opponents in pre-season games and breaking jaws. He ended the career of his own teammate Marcus Williams with a punch that cracked his orbital socket and his vicious attacks such as kicking Cardinals fullback Larry Centers in the head have gotten him massive fines and suspensions. Even in his time as commentator he can act up in wild tangents and lives to rile people up, not a far cry from the days on the field where he would lovingly blast anyone in his path and feel no shame for it.
7 Vinnie Jones
Before he made the jump to movies, Jones was well known for being the most brutal thug soccer could know. He still holds the record for the fastest booking, getting a yellow card just three seconds into a match in 1992. He drew a total of 12 red cards over his career for headbutts, punches, kicks to the chest and even grabbing his opponent’s genitals. His own coaches would complain over his actions as too often Jones would ignore a key play in order to lay out an opponent and go out of his way to slam a guy down. It probably makes perfect sense he’s been cast as a heavy in films so often, the man had been auditioning for the role of a monster for his entire playing career.
6 Bill Laimbeer
A major reason so many hated the late ‘80s Detroit Pistons was Laimbeer himself. He wasn’t as good on his feet as others on the team but he made up for it by elbowing, shoving, hip-knocking and choking every chance he got. He would earn numerous fouls but also claim being fouled himself with “flops” that would have been too theatrical for professional wrestling yet so many refs fell for it and called them his way. Laimbeer would get in constant fights and often be shown with a black eye from an altercation either on or off the court.
He was a four time All Star with 10,000 points, helping Detroit to back-to-back NBA titles and holds the record for most games played by any Pistons star. But of course, it’s his “style” that’s all people remember him for, a man who would commit every foul imaginable yet claim to be the victim so often, a crybaby bully that made him the most loathed man in the sport for his time.
5 Kevin Muscat
Soccer is known for brutal stuff but Muscat took it to such a degree that he was proclaimed “the most hated man in football” by opponents. His actions go from “heat of the moment” to full-on criminal assault such as his infamous hit on Matty Holmes so vicious that Holmes nearly lost his leg. He’s added many other victims to his attacks, brought before the FIFA board and earned 123 yellow cards and 12 red cards and numerous suspensions.
That hasn’t slowed him down as in 2011, he was suspended eleven games for a tackle on Adrian Zahara that the press condemned as the most brutal ever seen and that was the first game after a previous suspension for Muscat. He’s moved on to become a manager but all his skill in playing will be overshadowed by his reputation as a man who played soccer with the passion of a street thug and tactics not much better.
4 Hardy Brown
If Hardy Brown took to the Marines with the same intensity as he used playing football, then God help the enemy. His hits were so hard that officials constantly checked his shoulder pads to make sure he didn’t have metal plates inside. He prided himself on his hard demeanor, boasting of knocking out 21 opponents in 1951 while playing for San Francisco.
After he put one of their players in the hospital, the Rams set up a pool to reward the man who paid Hardy back but had to end it when no one could lay a hand on Hardy. He took football as combat and no one was safe as his coaches banned him from intersquad scrimmages for fear Hardy would take out his own team before a game. He died in 1991 in a mental institution, a fitting end for such a wild fighter.
3 Ulf Samuelsson
A member of the Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup-winning teams, Samuelsson was also regarded as probably the dirtiest hockey player of the 1990s. Indeed, his hit on Bruins forward Cam Neely in the 1991 playoffs was so savage it helped end Neely’s career. He did end up getting as good as he dished out as Tie Domi took him out with a sucker punch that Domi claimed Samuelsson encouraged. But Ulf was more the instigator, racking up hard hits, savage blows on the boards and wasn’t above a cheap shot with the stick or from behind. A throwback to a more savage era in hockey, Ulf was a man you hated to face against and probably just hated in general for doing whatever it took to win at any cost.
2 Conrad Dobler
Dobler reveled in his title of “The Meanest Man in Football” and he earned it. In one Monday Night Football game, he was shown on replay clipping, hitting, punching, kicking and illegal interference all in the same play. He would march across the field just to spit in the face of a downed opponent. His rage was brutal as he would poke guys in the eyes, tear at their helmets, slam them after they were down and woe to anyone who got him angry. The man once spat right at “Mean” Joe Greene and Greene was the one who backed down. He would pay the price for his hard play with multiple injuries but still, even for the wild NFL of the 1970s, Dobler was one a kind, a monster on the field and not much better off it.
1 Ty Cobb
A memorable moment in “Field of Dreams” is Shoeless Joe Jackson saying Ty Cobb wanted to be among the ghosts playing in the magical field “but none of us could stand the SOB when we were alive so we told him to stick it!” The joke works as it wasn’t too far from the truth. While a fantastic player, Cobb was also brutal, sadistic, savage, surly, cursing and violent and those are the nicer things you can say about him. He made it a point to slide into bases with spikes out, more than ready to slice opposing player’s legs and wasn’t above drilling a ball right at a guy rather than make a play. This is the man who ran into the stands to punch a fan who had lost all but three fingers on both hands to an industrial accident. Even his own teammates couldn’t stand him and if not for his excellent play, he’d have been thrown out of the game easily.
There was also Cobb’s beliefs. Even in a time when open bigotry was accepted, Cobb’s racism was appalling as he cursed black people with every name imaginable, refused to bunk with a teammate who supposedly had “darkie blood” and would literally spit on some he passed by. He was still an ornery bastard in his twilight years, picking fights with retired players over stuff that happened on the field decades earlier. His talent is sadly overshadowed by a personality of a man who didn’t care who he hurt to get ahead and why only three people from baseball bothered to attend his funeral.